Tracking multilingual sources creates logistical challenges that most reference management software is not prepared to handle. What is the nature of their research workflow and how can Librarians offer better support?
reference management software, bibliographic management software, multilingual resources, researchers
Multilingual Researchers and Reference Management Habits
Software is often developed with an implicit bias that people only speak one language, and that language should be English. Reference management software is no different. Scholars often have sources of information in multiple languages, and properly citing them creates a set of additional rules to remember and challenges for software to overcome to properly document the nature of the source materials. Different scholarly journals may have different expectations for how to format non-English sources. The demands can also vary based on the actual language of the source.
The use of reference management software is well documented, but the nature of non-English sources and how they need to be handled have rarely been considered. I conducted a survey with 182 participants across disciplines to discover how they keep track of and manage their non-English sources for their English language publications. Multilingual researchers have unique challenges that have not been investigated in depth, nor are they a monolithic group who have a universal set of needs.
Uncovering these issues shows that multilingual researchers shows that reference management software cannot accommodate multilingual matters such as saving the vernacular text as well as a transliteration and/or translation. There is however one instance of reference management software that does accommodate for these special needs, yet based on the sample from my study, is almost entirely unknown in the field.
Other challenges to the adoption and effective use of multilingual reference management software include how scholars perceive the capabilities of the various software options, their own personal habits which are very difficult to change, if they even need to be changed, and the learning curve of the software itself. Looking at these issues together, I would like to show what the concerns and challenges of multilingual scholars are, what are the potential software solutions, and how, even if you yourself are not a multilingual librarian, can still support faculty, students, and other researchers with an interest in adopting software for their multilingual research needs.